A year after his stormy debut at the U.N., Trump will claim foreign policy successes from his brash diplomacy
President Trump had a stormy debut at the annual United Nations gathering of world leaders last September.
From the podium of the packed U.N. General Assembly, he blasted North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and warned of global peril from “loser terrorists” and the “wicked few.”
When Trump returns to the U.N. this week, he will claim that his brash diplomacy has led to a series of foreign policy successes, aides say, including an emerging detente with North Korea, expanding protection for U.S. trade and other interests, and putting Islamic State on the run.
During his four-day visit to New York, the president will address the General Assembly, chair the Security Council for the first time and speak at a conference on narcotics. Amid a flurry of diplomatic receptions, he also will hold private meetings with the leaders of seven countries, including Japan, France and Britain.
Trump’s disruptive approach to foreign policy includes a disdain for international institutions, including the U.N. He repeated his doubts before his arrival Sunday night by saying the world body had “not lived up to” its potential.
“It’s always been surprising to me that more things aren’t resolved,” Trump said in a weekend video message, “because you have all of these countries getting together in one location but it doesn’t seem to get there. I think it will.”
Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo signaled Sunday that Trump would claim credit for lowering the nuclear threat from North Korea — even though Pyongyang has yet to make any substantive moves toward eliminating its nuclear arsenal or ballistic missiles, or even providing an inventory of them.
“We’re continuing to make progress,” Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday,” citing North Korea’s suspension of nuclear or missile tests since last year and what he called “deep discussions” about denuclearization. “These are all the right steps forward. It’s the right path.”
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was more circumspect, noting, “We are far from reaching the end of this.
“We have got to make sure we enforce sanctions, because that’s what brought them to the table in the first place,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And I think that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
Haley also indicated that Trump, who blasted Iran in his speech last year to the world body, would again take a tough line, but she backed away from weekend comments by Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani suggesting that Washington was sympathetic to those who want to see Iran’s leadership toppled.
“Look, the United States is not looking to do a regime change in Iran. We’re not looking to do regime change anywhere,” she said. “What we are looking to do is protect Americans, protect our allies and make sure that we do everything we can to stop it.”
Some analysts expect Trump to deliver a less fiery speech this year, if only because his top target has changed. He now boasts of his “warm” feelings for Kim, whom he met in June during a summit in Singapore, and still hopes to revive the stalled denuclearization talks.
South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, met with Kim last week in Pyongyang and is expected to give Trump a private message from the North Korean ruler. Both Kim and Trump have said they hope to meet again this year, and the White House has said it is working to arrange another summit.
“I think the president’s speeches will have much less bomb throwing than last year,” said Jon Alterman, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan Washington think tank. “Most importantly, President Trump isn’t new for the world.”
Iran may bear the brunt of Trump’s harshest rhetoric this year for what the administration considers its malign behavior, including support for militants in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere.
According to a senior administration official, Trump plans to repeat his claim that the Iran nuclear deal “failed” — despite continued reports from the U.N. nuclear watchdog that Iran is complying with it — and is likely to scold Europeans for continuing to try to salvage the international agreement that Trump withdrew from in May.
He will face a more jaded audience than last year, however. Many leaders have sized up Trump’s blustery rhetoric, are wary of the policy havoc he can wreak and are finding ways to navigate with or around him, diplomats say.
Over the last year, Trump has disrupted the world order by starting trade conflicts with China and the European Union, and by offering lavish praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin — who will not be at the U.N. this week — even as the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign continues to cloud the White House.
Trump has criticized the U.N. as bloated and ineffective, and cut U.S. funding and participation from several agencies and pacts, including the U.N. Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court and mechanisms for peacekeeping and aiding refugees.
Trump roiled the Group of 7 summit in Quebec in June, scolding his allies and suggesting Russia be allowed to rejoin the group, which kicked Moscow out in 2014 for its illegal annexation of Crimea.
At a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in July, his demands triggered an emergency session when he suggested the U.S. might withdraw from the trans-Atlantic military alliance, the bedrock of post-World War II peace in Europe.
Trump declared victory at every turn and glowed in the limelight, a performance that played far better with his supporters back home than with traditional U.S. allies overseas.
“He just uses these things … to show his base that he’s onto these foolish multilateral structures, that he’s proud to go in there and give them the lecture they’ve never had,” said Christopher R. Hill, a former U.S. ambassador to four countries who served Republican and Democratic presidents.
U.S. allies “have come to an understanding that Trump is what he is. They’re just trying to get through the next two years and hoping he’s not reelected,” Hill said.
A former White House aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss his former boss, said Trump doesn’t dislike the organizations as much as he claims.
“He may not believe wholeheartedly in the mission of the U.N. or NATO or any multilateral body,” said the former aide. “But he doesn’t hate going to these things as much as people think. As much as he may grumble and complain, he relishes the world stage.”
Most European allies, still smarting from Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, are resigned to playing defense, hoping to preserve existing agreements rather than formulating new ones.
U.S. allies who first thought they could work with Trump “are getting upset and sick of it,” said Rachel Rizzo, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a bipartisan Washington think tank. “Instead of kowtowing to Trump, foreign leaders are pushing back more against his foreign policies and trying to see if these structures can be maintained even without a strong U.S. presence.”
Some experts see the decline of U.S. political influence around the globe in the Trump era.
“Many countries are looking elsewhere,” said Stewart M. Patrick, senior fellow for global governance at the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations. “If the United States draws back, it’s not as if the vacuum isn’t filled. Increasingly it is being filled by China.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will meet privately with Trump on Tuesday, recently reflected publicly on the United States’ shrinking ability to influence world events.
Last year, Guterres welcomed Trump to the U.N. with a public expression of gratitude for Trump’s insistence that other countries contribute more to its coffers.
This month Guterres lamented that Trump has pushed the United States into “a number of conflicts of different natures — in relation to trade, in relation to other situations,” while disengaging from important global agreements.
The U.S. role “that was a dominant factor in international relations just a few decades ago is today less clear,” he told the Atlantic magazine.
1:20 p.m., Sept. 23 — This story was updated with details of Trump’s schedule and comments from the Sunday talk shows.
This story was originally posted at 2:35 p.m. on Sept. 22
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get the day's top news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.